De-stressing Your Vacation, Part 1 – Overcoming Jet Lag
You’ve likely experienced that compilation of symptoms that hits us like a hammer to the head as we step from the plane onto the exit ramp: fatigue, grogginess, decreased coordination, insomnia, and maybe even a little mild depression. Jet lag is a result of the body’s internal circadian (daily) rhythms being out of sync with external time, and it happens as a result of traveling across time zones. (A similar thing happens with changing shift work schedules.) Hormones such as cortisol (an adrenal hormone that controls the stress response) and melatonin (a hormone from the pineal gland that affects sleep) rise and fall at certain times of the day or night. When the external light-dark cycle changes abruptly, these daily rhythms get out of sync and can send our bodies into a tailspin.
A recent study showed that the adrenal clock is critical in these circadian rhythms, and that it is the timing of adrenal hormone release that regulates resynchronization after transmeridian (across time zone) travel. The researchers found that when the adrenals are compromised, it takes longer for the body to reset its internal clock. 1
Another group of researchers looked at the effect of stress on the ability to adapt to circadian rhythm changes. They found that it took an average of 20-30% longer for stressed animals to recover from a light-dark shift change than non-stressed animals.2 Together, these studies illustrate the importance of adrenal hormones on responding to the challenges of traveling across time zones. Either compromised adrenals or stress on healthy adrenals can hamper the body’s ability to adapt to time zone changes. By supporting the adrenals and stress response system before and during travel, you may be able to reduce the symptoms and duration of jet lag.
Some things you can do to overcome jet lag:
- Get plenty of rest before you begin your travels. Rest and restorative sleep are some of the best ways to support your adrenals and stress response system.
- A few days before you leave, begin shifting your bed time and wake up time closer to those of your destination.
- Consider exposure to a light box or natural light when you wake to reset your internal clock.
- Support your adrenals throughout the trip, especially first thing in the morning when your natural production of cortisol is highest. Nutrients like magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C and E help produce the hormones you need to handle stress, while herbs such as ashwagandha, eleutherococcus, and maca support your body during stress.
- Keep your blood sugar stable by eating moderate portions of healthy foods frequently. Letting your blood sugar drop requires the body to secrete a great deal of the stress hormone cortisol to bring your blood sugar back into balance.
- Have fun and let go of perfection. Allowing yourself to adapt to whatever the trip might bring instead of insisting it go a certain way reduces your stress and supports your stress response system.
- Go play! Moderate activity is a great stress release. Just remember to listen to your body and don’t overdo with a “weekend warrior” type attitude.
About the Author
Dr. Lise Naugle is an associate of Dr. James L. Wilson. She assists healthcare professionals with clinical assessment and treatment protocols related to adrenal dysfunction and stress, and questions regarding the use of Doctor Wilson’s Original Formulations supplements. With eleven years in private practice and a focus on stress, adrenals, hormonal balance and mind-body connection, she offers both clinical astuteness and a wealth of practical knowledge. Dr. Naugle also maintains updated information about the latest scientific research on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, endocrine balance and nutritional support for stress and develops educational materials about stress and health for clinicians and their patients.
- Kiessling S, Eichele G, Oster H. Adrenal glucocorticoids have a key role in circadian resynchronization in a mouse model of jet lag. J Clin Invest. 2010 Jul;120(7):2600-9. doi: 10.1172/JCI41192. Epub 2010 Jun 23.
- Mohawk JA, Lee TM. Restraint stress delays reentrainment in male and female diurnal and nocturnal rodents. J Biol Rhythms. 2005 Jun;20(3):245-56.